God on the Starting Line by Marc Bloom, hardcover, 240 pages, Breakaway Books (2004), ISBN: 1891369539
The power to transform young lives – thrusting teenagers on a path toward self-respect, empowerment, and good citizenship – is among the timely and vital subjects of a compelling book by Marc Bloom, an award-winning journalist who has chronicled the athletic achievements of youth in a career spanning more than three decades. Bloom, a New York Times writer and author of seven previous books, who is an authority on running and youth fitness, writes in "God on the Starting Line" of his experience coaching a boys' high school cross country team in New Jersey. Bloom, a life-long runner himself, offers a passionate account of his efforts to use the rigors of running as a vehicle to develop discipline, commitment, good values, and a sense of personal heroism in his young athletes. At a time when the majority of a nation's young people lack direction and purpose and are woefully out of shape, Bloom seeks to reverse the trend in the Jersey Shore town of Belmar, where he coaches St. Rose High School, a small Catholic school. Being Jewish, Bloom is surprised when the school hires him. But in time he believes that fate intervened, that "God's sure hand", as he writes, delivered him to St. Rose, where he pours his heart into the team and creates a "family" in which the athletes eventually respond to Bloom's relentless appeal for hard work and high standards. Speaking out against the consumer culture that entraps young people, giving them superficial ownership and a dangerous sense of entitlement, Bloom shows how devotion to the idea of arduous striving on the cross country course for the benefit not only of yourself but for teammates can be an exalting experience, one with spiritual power. Bloom's book is a heartfelt account of his own spiritual coming of age. Growing more comfortable in his Jewish skin, Bloom uses his renewed faith and belief in the "interconnectedness of all things" to inspire his Catholic team with messages of suffering (running hard in quest of "purification") for a cause. He finds common ground with Jewish and Catholic values, showing the boys that delayed gratification, not the cheap and easy, are important on and off the race course. Once Bloom's ideas take root, the Running Roses run their hearts out, making them state championship contenders and teaching the coach many lessons along the way. When that championship day arrives, rare bonds of caring among Bloom and his boys result in an emotionally-charged performance, revealing, in Bloom's summation, not only the heroics on the race course, but qualities to be emulated by us all. "God on the Starting Line", appraises Emmy Award-winning Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan, "is a classic, a tribute to all those who pursue excellence with talent, pride, courage, and the ability to endure; it is the best sports book I have read in years and should be required reading". "God on the Starting Line" is an essential story of our time. It addresses issues of education, adolescence, parenting, faith, religion, and sports. With the nation sunk in despair over the polarity of all groups fighting about their differences, Bloom, a former New York City teacher, shows how embracing the other wins the day; and that, in our hearts, we should all share in the opportunity to thrive our universal humanity.